The Best Short Hikes Near Calgary

These scenic hikes are all 4 km or less round trip and less than 1 hr from Calgary.

The Ultimate Car Camping Pack List

Everything you need for an awesome camping trip!

Tips for Fun Family Backpacking

Family Backpacking 101 - what to pack, where to go...

Discover Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site

Go back in time and live like a trapper at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, only 2 hours from Calgary.

Why you should visit Writing on Stone Provincial Park

Hoodoos, beaches, and paddling! Need I say more?

Friday, May 29, 2015

Bow Valley Campground Trip Report

When you just can't wait for the weekend to begin, head to Bow Valley Campground in Bow Valley Provincial Park. Less than an hour from Calgary, Bow Valley Campground allows you to unwind while staying plugged in (perfect for those weekends you are on call).

The view just steps from our campsite!
Bow Valley Campground, Bow Valley Provincial Park

What We Liked

  • Family-friendly campground: Most campers were families who stayed put for the weekend, so there was very little traffic in the campground and everyone was quiet after 10 pm.
  • Shaded, private campsites
  • Power and water sites available
  • On site store: They had coffee, so we were able to remedy our coffee emergency! 
  • Playground
  • Paved Bike trail and several hiking trails connecting the campground to trailheads and Day Use Areas.
  • Cell phone reception so we could connect with the friends we were meeting at the campground
  • Clean outhouses -  Toilet paper and hand sanitizer were always full and washrooms were clean even though the campground was full.
Bow Valley Campground Playground
Bow Valley Campground Registration & Store

What We Would Like to See

  • More washrooms 

Activities

There are several pleasant hikes in Bow Valley Provincial Park with very little elevation gain, so they are suitable for children. My favorite family hike near the campground is Middle Lake because it's so pretty. For longer, more challenging hikes, try nearby Grotto Canyon, Doorjamb and Loder, Heart Mountain, or Mount Yamnuska.

Cyclists will enjoy the paved Bow Valley Bike Trail. I would rate the path as moderate for kids; easy for adults. My friend's 8 year old did the whole trail round trip and still had energy to hike the Montane Trail (1 km) at the end! For a longer trail, I recommend the Legacy Trail (also paved) from Canmore to Banff!

There is also fishing and geocaching in the park. For more information on park activities, please see this post.  
Little POG at Middle Lake, Bow Valley Provincial Park

Know Before You Go

  • Make a reservation so you won't be disappointed! We headed out Friday night without a reservation and the campground was full. Fortunately we were meeting friends who had room for us. 
  • The campground is between two highways and is across the river from train tracks, so bring ear plugs if you are a light sleeper. I was woken up a few times in the night, but my husband and children slept fine.
  • There are no showers (but there are showers at nearby Willow Rock Campground).
  • Outhouses are few and far between, so book a site near an outhouse if you don't want to ride your bike to the toilets.
  • Pick up firewood when you register as Loops C, D & E are a bit far from the store.

The Verdict

Bow Valley Campground is a great mountain getaway close to Calgary. Visitors will appreciate the short drive to camp, assortment of easy but pretty trails in the area, and shaded, private campsites. We enjoyed our stay and would return!

Related Links

Family Fun In Bow Valley Provincial Park
Flowing Water Trail, Bow Valley Provincial Park
The Best Short Hikes Near Calgary

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

5 Cheap & Easy Camping Hacks

Since we backpack as well as car camp, I'm always on the lookout for ways to simplify packing while reducing pack weight and bulk. If the solution is cheap and easy, that's even better! Here are some handy camping hacks we love and know you will too:
  1. Tired of cutlery poking holes in your stuff sacks or rolling around your kitchen bin? Make your own cutlery roll from an old tea towel and piece of ribbon. If you can't spare a tea towel, pick one up from the Dollar Store or improvise with a thin cloth placemat. A cutlery roll is handy for picnics as well as camping trips and makes a nice gift for outdoorsy people.

    How to make a cutlery roll: Lay the tea towel out as below - with a long edge facing you - and fold the bottom up 2/3s of the way. Pin the left and right edges closed, then stitch the left side shut using a straight stitch. (A matching colored thread works well, but for this tutorial, I used black thread so you can see where I sewed.) When you stitch up the right side, attach a 2' length of wide ribbon to the top of the seam. Sew along the middle of the ribbon as shown in the picture. Next, stitch vertical lines about 1.5" apart - from left to right - to hold your cutlery. Finally, knot the ends of the ribbon so they won't fray.

    Open Cutlery Roll: Note how and where the ribbon is attached.
    Closed Cutlery Roll - neat and tidy. Makes a nice gift.
  2. Use a disposable shower cap as a food cover to keep bugs out of your bowl.

  3. Upcycle broken crayons / candle ends, cardboard egg cartons and dryer lint to make waterproof firestarters. Instructions are available here.


  4. Rather than bringing several jars of spices, pack a spice blend in a small plastic container. We always bring a mix of sea salt, black pepper and garlic powder. It's fantastic on steak and mushrooms as well as grilled vegetables. If you like, add parsley or paprika. 

    3 Spice Blend
  5. Bread/produce bags make good emergency foot covers when footwear gets soaked. Be sure to put the bags over dry socks, then have extra socks to change into when your feet get sweaty. I did this often as a child because I didn't have waterproof hiking boots and lived near the coast where it rains a lot. 
Plastic bags = emergency foot covers
(or garbage bags - you can never have enough with kids)
Do you have a ninja camping hack you'd like to share?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bill Milne Trail: Our Favorite Kananaskis Bike Path

The Bill Milne Bike Path is our favorite family bike trail in Kananaskis. The valley setting is splendid with mountains all around and the trail is perfect for young cyclists or those who want a leisurely ride. Most of the trail from Kovach Pond to Wedge Pond is flat and paved, so it is possible to do the trail on any kind of bike or tow a baby in a bike trailer. We even saw a family longboarding the trail! Our kids have done this trail since they were 4!


Route Overview

Trail: Bill Milne Bike Path (formerly known as Evan Thomas Bike Path)
Trailhead: Kovach Pond Day Use Area
Destination: Wedge Pond
Total distance: 17.4 km return
  • Kovach Pond Day Use to Golf Course 5.4 km
  • Golf Course to Bridge 1.5 km
  • Bridge to Mt Kidd RV Park 550 m - Stop here for an ice cream bar or popsicle!
  • Mt Kidd RV Park to Wedge Pond 2 km (this is the hilly section)
Elevation gain/loss: ~100 m gain on the way to Wedge Pond, ~100 m loss on the way back
Trail surface: Asphalt with two short sections of gravel
Difficulty: Easy (Moderate for 5 year olds)
Washrooms: Outhouses at Kovach Pond Day Use Area, Mount Kidd RV Park, and Wedge Pond
Picnic Areas: Kovach Pond, Wedge Pond
Dining: Delta Kananaskis Lodge, Moose Family Kitchen (located next to the Delta in the same building as Kananaskis Outfitters), Store and snack bar at Mount Kidd RV Park.

Bill Milne Bike Path, Kananaskis

Route Description

From Kovach Pond Day Use Area, head left towards Kananaskis Golf Course and Mount Kidd RV Park. Very shortly you will come to a bridge over Ribbon Creek. Cross the bridge carefully - the pedestrian lane on the bridge is too narrow for a double Chariot - and continue on. You will pass through mixed forest, aspen forest, before entering a lovely flat, river plain with panoramic views.

Bill Milne Bike Path
Great snack spot on the Bill Milne Trail
Bill Milne Bike Path
Beautiful bridge 550 m before Mount Kidd RV Park
Pass the golf course and Mount Kidd campground, then cross highway 40 at a marked crosswalk - about 1 km past the campground. This route allows you to stay on a paved trail and is also shorter and less smelly than if you crossed the highway at the golf course (the unpaved trail across from the golf course is shared with horses). 

The last section to Wedge Pond is rolling with a couple small, but steep hills. Children on balance bikes may need assistance, but my 5 year old was able to do the hills without stopping. The last few hundred metres to Wedge Pond are downhill on a gravel trail. Things to do at Wedge Pond follow. 

On your return, enjoy coasting most of the way back, and have a rest on the bench by the Ribbon Creek bridge near the trailhead. If you need a snack break sooner, pop in to the store at Mount Kidd RV Park and get an ice cream!

Nice view of The Wedge from the Ribbon Creek Bridge

Wedge Pond Activities

  • Hiking - 1 km interpretive hike around the lake.
  • Picnicking - Bring a picnic blanket as the picnic tables are up the hill from the lake and there are only a few benches around the lake.
  • Geocaching - There are 2 geocaches around the pond.
  • Fishing
  • Wading
Wedge Pond, Kananaskis
Getting mucky at Wedge Pond

Trail Hazards

There are a few road crossings, so children should be kept close and instructed to stop at every intersection. Most of the back roads were quiet, but where the trail crosses at Highway 40, cars are travelling at high speeds.

As in all mountain parks, there is wildlife, so travel in a group, make noise, and carry bear spray. See 10 Bear Safety Tips for Hikers and Backpackers for ways to stay safe. Note that bikes move quickly and quietly so you have a higher chance of startling animals on a bike - make lots of noise (sing, ring your bell periodically) to alert animals of your approach.

Directions

From Calgary, head west on Highway 1 until you reach the exit for Kananaskis Country / Highway 40. At the stop sign, turn left. Continue for 23 kilometres until the turnoff for Kananaskis Village. Turn right on Mount Allen Drive. Take your first left, and then immediate next left on Ribbon Creek Drive into Kovach Pond Day Use Area.


Bill Milne Bike Path, Kananaskis
Try out the trail and let me know how you like it! 

Related Links

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

WOOM 1 Balance Bike Review: More Than Good Looks

When we were given the opportunity to review the WOOM 1 from WOOM Bikes USA, we were super excited. We already knew about WOOM and were impressed by their specs and beautiful frames, but would the bike measure up to what was on paper? After testing the WOOM 1 balance bike almost daily for over a month, we can give a resounding 'Yes' and are confident recommending the WOOM 1 as a first bike. In fact, my 4 year old loves it so much, we can't get her to ride any other bike now!

WOOM 1 Balance Bike

Why Balance Bikes?

Balance bikes have become incredibly popular for getting children riding a bike at a young age. Starting your child on a balance bike (versus training wheels) means no breaking your back holding the back of the bike, fewer falls, and a painless transition to a pedal bike. Why purchase a balance bike when you could simply take the pedals off of a small bike? So you can have the safest bike for your first-time rider. 

The best balance bikes are extremely light and designed for children as young as 18 months with a low stand over height, low centre of gravity, and safety features such as steer limiters and hand brakes. The WOOM 1 has all of these features as well as nontoxic parts such as the grips and saddle.

Little POG riding the WOOM 1 in the Alberta Foothills

Why WOOM? 

WOOM makes lightweight bikes designed exclusively for children. For more information on WOOM Bikes, please see this post: www.playoutsideguide.com/2015/05/woom-bikes-better-kids-bike-or-best.html

With its big tires and robust frame, the WOOM 1 performs well on any terrain.

WOOM 1 - What We Like

  • The hand brake! Little POG quickly learned to use the hand brake and has more confidence going down hills since she can stop more easily than just using her feet. It helps that the V-brake is made for small hands.
  • The quick release seat post makes it easy to change the seat height - handy for growth spurts or when friends want to try the bike.
  • Big pneumatic tires, but light wheels make for great coasting, excellent traction, and a comfortable ride. Pneumatic (air filled) tires: 1) make for a more comfortable ride, 2) last longer, 3) “offer far greater traction on surfaces and prevent wheel 'slide-outs'.” Source: www.kinderbikeusa.com/main/index.phpoption=com_content&view=article&id=64&lang=en
  • Low standover height for an early start and confidence.
  • "The ChromMoly Unicrown fork provides maximum damping to reduce stress on little arms.
  • The Steer limiter limits the turning radius and prevents wipeouts. This one is so important because beginning riders have a tendency to crank the handlebars farther than they should.
  • Stylish design and colors. Choose from WOOM Red or sky blue. The bike turns heads wherever we go and my daughter is so proud to ride it.
  • Long life. Besides being durable, the design of the WOOM 1 allows your child to ride it from 18 months to 4 years old. My 4 year old, who is big for her age, still rides the WOOM 1 comfortably. Most other balance bikes are outgrown by the age of 3.
Small hand reach brake on the WOOM 1.

WOOM 1 Specs

Specs

WOOM 1
Weight 9.0 lbs
Wheels 50 mm Innova wheels with WOOM SOOPA-DOOPA-HOOPS alloy rims, industry bearing hubs, and Nirospokes
Seat height range 12” (30.5 cm) to 16” (40.5 cm)
Tires Pneumatic tires
Frame material Steel alloy
Steer stop Yes
Foot rest No
Brakes Yes – Small hand reach brake (1 rear hand brake)

For more details, please visit WOOM Bikes USA.

WOOM 1 - What We Would Like to See

I would love to see the WOOM 1 available at bike stores in Canada! For now, purchase it online at WOOM Bikes USA. There is minimal assembly required (attach pedals, adjust handlebars, tighten headset) and tools are provided.

Little POG happily riding the WOOM 1 by the Bow River

The Verdict

Little POG and I give the WOOM 1 balance bike four thumbs up! It is well worth the money if you purchase the bike early; the design allows you to start using the bike from 18 months until 4 years old. I would also recommend this bike to families that do a lot of dirt and gravel trails as the frame, rubber tires, and ChromMoly fork absorb some of the bumps. We tested the bike on paved, dirt, and gravel and it was great on all terrain.

*Disclosure: WOOM Bikes USA kindly provided me with a loaner WOOM 1 to test and review. I was not paid or compensated for this review and all opinions are my own.

For More Information

Woom Bikes USA - Woom 1 Description

If you would like to see details on two other popular balance bikes for comparison, please check out this post: Runners vs. Strider Balance Bike Reviews

VIDEO Review of the WOOM 1 & 2 - by Paul Osborne for Outdoor Families Magazine

Friday, May 15, 2015

Family Fun in Bow Valley Provincial Park

Bow Valley Provincial Park is the perfect family-friendly mountain destination only an hour from Calgary. With panoramic mountain views and scenic hiking trails, geocaching, fishing, biking, and paddling, there is something for everyone.

Parents of young children will appreciate the short trails around Bow Valley Campground with minimal elevation gain, benches along the trails for snack breaks, and washrooms at every parking lot. Longer hikes in the park, which are doable year round, include Raven's End, Prairie View, and Barrier Lake Fire Lookout.

Join us now on a virtual tour of Bow Valley Provincial Park!


Montane Interpretive Trail (1.5 km loop, minimal elevation)

This hiking trail departs from the first day use area when you enter the park. The trailhead is next to the Bow Valley Provincial Park Visitor Centre. On this 1.5 km loop, you will pass through meadow and forest and learn about the ecosystem, and local plants and animals. There are also a couple geocaches on the trail - one in the forest and one in the meadow - see if you can find both!

Not that the trail is officially a hiking trail (we let the kids bike because it was off season and no one was there, but shouldn't have) and we did the loop in the reverse direction.

Washrooms? Outhouses at parking lot
Stroller Friendly? Yes, but bumpy and rooty.
Directions from Calgary: Head west on the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy 1), until you get to Exit 114 for Exshaw / Bow Valley Provincial Park. Merge onto Hwy 1AB N. Take first left at sign for Bow Valley Provincial Park. Drive 600 m to Bow Valley Administration and Information Centre.

Montane Trail, Bow Valley Provincial Park
Prairie Crocus
Montane Forest Geocache, Bow Valley Provincial Park
The small hill up to the top of a ridge.
On the ridge, Montane Trail
Heading down to the meadow

Bow Valley Bike Path (8.6 km return, 85 m elevation)

The Bow Valley Bike Path is an easy ride for even the youngest riders with views of the Bow Valley and Mount Yamnuska. You can ride from the Visitor Centre all the way to Bow Valley Campground on a scenic paved path.

Washrooms? Outhouses at parking lot
Stroller Friendly? Yes.
Directions from Calgary: Head west on the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy 1), until you get to Exit 114 for Exshaw / Bow Valley Provincial Park. Merge onto Hwy 1AB N. Take first left at sign for Bow Valley Provincial Park. Drive 600 m to Bow Valley Administration and Information Centre.


New spring leaves on the Bow Valley Bike Path
Family photo along the Bow Valley Bike Path - Mount Yamnuska in the background

Middle Lake Day Use Area and Interpretive Trail (2.5 km loop)

Middle Lake is a pretty picnic spot with a great view of Mount Yamnuska! We've stopped for lunch here many times and had a lot of fun geocaching and walking the shoreline.

Tips: 
  • If you are keen on learning about wildlife and habitats, print the Middle Lake Trail Brochure from home or pick one up at the Visitor Information Centre in case the kiosk has run out. 
  • If you're short on time, walk the lakeshore (1 km loop) instead of doing the forest loop.
Washrooms? Outhouses at parking lot
Stroller Friendly? Yes, but bumpy and rooty
Directions from Calgary: Head west on the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy 1), until you get to Exit 114 for Exshaw / Bow Valley Provincial Park. Merge onto Hwy 1AB N. Take first left at sign for Bow Valley Provincial Park. Drive 3.7 km to Middle Lake Day Use Area.

Middle Lake, Bow Valley Provincial Park
Middle Lake, Bow Valley Provincial Park
Middle Lake, Bow Valley Provincial Park
Middle Lake, Bow Valley Provincial Park

Many Springs Interpretive Trail (1.9 km loop)

Many Springs Trail was a fun one because it had structures (a bridge and boardwalk), bubbles, and a micro geocache. Be sure to spend some time at the second "lookout" to see the bubbling springs and find the geocache.

Washrooms? Outhouses at parking lot
Stroller Friendly? Yes, lots of boardwalk.
Directions from Calgary: Head west on the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy 1), until you get to Exit 114 for Exshaw / Bow Valley Provincial Park. Merge onto Hwy 1AB N. Take first left at sign for Bow Valley Provincial Park. Drive 6.1 km to Whitefish Day Use.

The natural springs allow different plants and animals to live here.
Many Springs Trail, Bow Valley Provincial Park
Many Springs Trail, Bow Valley Provincial Park
Where to see springs bubbling! The geocache is near here too!

Whitefish Day Use Area and Bow River Trail (1.6 km to Bow Valley Campground)

Whitefish Day Use Area is a nice spot to fish, throw some rocks in the water, or have a picnic (I prefer Middle Lake as the tables are more spread out and you cannot see the Exshaw Plant though). 

For an easy, but pretty stroll, hike to the Bow Valley Campground via the Bow River Trail.  

Washrooms? Outhouses at parking lot 
Stroller Friendly? No, the river trail is quite narrow and bumpy.
Directions from Calgary: Head west on the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy 1), until you get to Exit 114 for Exshaw / Bow Valley Provincial Park. Merge onto Hwy 1AB N. Take first left at sign for Bow Valley Provincial Park. Drive 6.1 km to Whitefish Day Use Area.

Looking west from Whitefish Day Use Area
Looking East from Whitefish Day Use Area
Flowing Water Interpretive Trail (2.4 km loop)

Flowing Water Trail is a fun trail that takes you through lush forest, wetlands, then along the Kananaskis River back to where you started. The trailhead is at Willow Rock Campground near the showers. Great wildflower viewing in May and June! For more information, please see this post.

Washrooms? Flush toilets in the shower building
Stroller Friendly? No
Directions from Calgary: Head west on the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy 1), until you get to Exit 114 for Exshaw / Bow Valley Provincial Park. Merge onto Hwy 1AB N. Take first right at Willow Rock Campground and park near shower building. The trail head is on the north side of the parking lot and is marked with a hiking sign.

Flowing Water Trail, Bow Valley Provincial Park

Barrier Lake

Head to beautiful Barrier Lake for hiking, mountain biking, and paddling. Trails around the lake include Prairie View Trail and Barrier Lake Fire Lookout, Jewell Pass, and Stoney Trail. It is possible to make a loop of Prairie View and Jewell Pass if you want to mix it up.

In summer, head to Barrier Lake Day Use Area for beach time. The sandy beaches are perfect for sunbathing and sand castle building! While the turquoise waters are a bit cold for swimming, they are great to paddle on a calm day. Canoe, kayak and stand up paddleboard rentals are available from Kananaskis Outfitters.

Washrooms? Outhouses at parking lot 
Stroller Friendly? Yes, except for Barrier Lake Fire Lookout. 
Directions from Calgary: Head west on Highway 1. Take the Highway 40S/Kananaskis Trail exit. At the top of the ramp, turn left at the stop sign. Continue for 12 km. AFTER Barrier Lake Information Centre, turn right at Barrier Dam Day Use. 

Barrier Lake
Playing in the sand at Barrier Lake
Heart Creek Interpretive Trail (4 km return)

Heart Creek is a fun trail to do on a hot day as there are lots of opportunities to splash in the creek. Kids will love crossing all the bridges (9 in total) and looking for wildflowers. If you still want to do more exploring after, check out the Bow Valley Bunker which starts on the opposite side of the parking lot!

Washrooms? Outhouses at parking lot 
Stroller Friendly? No. The 2013 flood drastically changed the trail.
Directions from Calgary: Head west on Highway 1. 

Heart Creek

Bow Valley Provincial Park Amenities

  • Visitor Centres - Bow Valley, Barrier Lake
  • Cell phone service
  • Campgrounds - Bow Valley Campground, Willow Rock Campground, Elk Flats Group Campground, Jewell Bay Backcountry Campground
  • Washrooms

Activities

  • Hiking - See a complete listing of the park's trails here.
  • Fishing - in Gap Lake, Bow River, or Grotto Pond (stocked). 
  • Geocaching - At time of writing, there were more than 8 geocaches in the north part of the park (north of Highway 1).
  • Biking - Try the Bow Valley Paved Bike Path (8.6 km return) or bike on the road before the winter gate opens (seasonal closure from Middle Lake to Bow Valley Campground). 
  • CampingIf a day trip isn't enough time to enjoy the park, you may camp at one of many campgrounds listed below.  
    • Bow River - closest to Banff
    • Bow Valley - near Mount Yamnuska, has camping store. Very pleasant with shaded, private sites, but expect some road and train noise. For a detailed trip report, please see this post.
    • Lac Des Arcs - near the trailhead for Ribbon Creek
    • Three Sisters - at Dead Man's Flats
    • Willow Rock - near Mount Yamnuska, large trailer sites near the road and small tenting/car access sites in the trees, has showers

  • Paddling - Paddle at Barrier Lake (put in at Barrier Dam, Barrier Lake, or Widow Maker), Canoe Meadows (river paddling), Gap Lake, or Lac Des Arc.
  • Rafting - Inside Out ExperienceChinook Rafting, Discover Banff Tours, Canadian Rockies Rafting, and Kananaskis White Water Rafting offer family-friendly trips down the Kananaskis River through Bow Valley Provincial Park!

  • Rafting the Kananaskis River

    Directions

    To access Montane Trail, Bow Valley Bike path, Middle Lake Day Use, Many Springs or Whitefish Day Use, head west on the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy 1), until you get to the Exshaw / Bow Valley Provincial Park exit. Take your first left into the park. The park is just under an hour from Calgary!
    • Montane Trail and the Bow Valley bike path from the first day use area. 
    • Continue on to the Middle Lake Day Use Area, Many Springs Trailhead parking lot, Whitefish Day Use Area, or Bow Valley Campground.
    What is your favorite hike in Bow Valley Provincial Park?

    Related Posts

    Tuesday, May 12, 2015

    Simply Hike Blogger Awards - Vote For Me!

    Simply Hike is a UK retailer of outdoor gear that also has a fantastic blog on "all things camping and hiking related". When they invited me to apply for their Best Outdoor Blogs of 2015, I was of course extremely flattered, and then totally surprised to end up as one of the finalists in the Simply Hike Outdoor Blogger Awards!

    If you would be so kind as to give the good people at Simply Hike a visit and give me a clickety-click (Newbie Outdoor Blogger Category / Play Outside Guide), I would be very grateful! Blogging doesn't pay the bills yet, so awards and pats on the back are good encouragement to keep at it. ; )


    The voting link is www.simplyhike.co.uk/blog/outdoor-blogger-awards-2015/ and voting is open until May 31st. Thank you so much for your support! 

    My blog's mission is to provide "everything families need to know to get outside and have fun." Is there anything you would like to know more about?